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As part of this year’s “Megilla BaKehilla” initiative, OTS’s Yachad Program ran 148 community-oriented Megillah readings throughout Israel with the participation of 22,000 Israelis. Each reading was punctuated by questions and answers, singing and dancing, animated presentations and dramatic pantomime, all in an effort to make the ancient story of Esther come alive and become more accessible and understandable to secular Israelis.
Yachad Megillah readings — like Yachad programming year-round — is based on the premise that secular Israelis have a thirst and desire to embrace their heritage, but do not feel welcome or comfortable doing so in religious environments.
“Megilla BaKehilla means, literally, ‘reading the scroll of Esther in the community,'” says OTS founder and Chancellor Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. “We always say that Judaism belongs to everyone and therefore needs to be made accessible to everyone. If people don’t want to go to the synagogue, for whatever reason, then we’ll bring their heritage to them. We’ll read and explain their historical traditions in the community centers our facilitators work in year-round, in the public parks and the school gyms – anywhere that secular Israelis feel comfortable going.”
As suggested by its name, Megilla BaKehilla also placed great emphasis on community togetherness, according to Betzalel Safra, Yachad’s director. “The more we bring together religious and secular people against the backdrop of their shared roots, the stronger our communities — and therefore our country — can become,” he says.
Yachad prepared thousands of specially-tailored Megillot with text, pictures and explanations, which were distributed to participants along with candies. “In addition, we built on the Purim tradition of Mishloach Manot,” relates Safra. “Many families brought a package of food which was then distributed to IDF soldiers, shelters for battered women or homes for the elderly. It was a true celebration of Judaism, an expression of unity and Jewish values.”